Doug Lamborn stood grim-faced in the kitchen of his north-side home, showing a side that his constituents don't normally see.
The third-term congressman, stunned at what had taken place a day earlier in Tucson, Ariz., stepped out of character Sunday morning. Lamborn invited some local media, including the Independent, to hear his thoughts following the despicable shooting Saturday that nearly had taken the life of his House colleague, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
This wasn't about airing political differences, and it certainly was no attempt to seize the spotlight or take advantage of the circumstances. Instead, this was one of Washington's most dogged conservatives, clearly wanting to offer his respectful tribute to ... a Democrat.
"I'm just hoping this horrible, senseless, cruel act is the work of one deranged person, and nothing more," Lamborn said of the attack that killed six people. "I'm hopeful this was just an isolated incident, and [Jared Lee Loughner] wasn't in cahoots with anyone else. I just can't see how anyone would want to do this to someone like Gabrielle Giffords.
"We've got a lot of curmudgeons in Congress, but I have to tell you, she is one of the nicest, sweetest people you could ever imagine, and she's also a really good person. And I'm being totally sincere. I'm not just saying that."
Lamborn had sat down in that same kitchen Saturday and fired up his laptop to check on the outside world before going on a hike. Instead, he saw the first news flashes from Arizona and, he said, "I was sick to my stomach."
The 40-year-old Giffords has served alongside Lamborn on the House Armed Services Committee, and while they've disagreed on many issues and votes, he proudly said they've worked together on and/or co-sponsored 66 pieces of legislation.
We also talked about security, with Lamborn noting that "we haven't had problems here," as compared to more flammable areas such as Arizona. He did say that, along with others in Congress, he would take more precautionary steps in the future, such as asking sheriffs to provide a few deputies at events — not just as a deterrent, but also to make constituents feel more at ease.
Soon, though, the conversation turned back to the angry, nasty rhetoric that many blame for inciting this violence. Lamborn talked about the excessive "vitriol," acknowledging that "neither party has a monopoly" on the provocative, over-the-top venom.
He's right. Sure, those on the far right have gone too far, such as Giffords' election opponent, Jesse Kelly, staging a fundraiser to "get on target ... help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office"; for $50 a head, participants could shoot a machine gun with Kelly. Yet, others on the left have overreacted in blaming Sarah Palin, when her "crosshairs" targeting of Democrats including Giffords apparently didn't inspire this shooter. (And many of those people have ignored the reminder that the National Democratic Committee used bull's-eye imagery on "Targeting Strategy" maps in 2004.)
This isn't the time to spew more allegations. This is the moment for both parties to dial down the bombast, and Lamborn agrees that "this is a good time" just after an election, with a new Congress, for both sides to make it happen. He saw one of Giffords' Democratic friends, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, make a similar plea, and he's willing to join a bipartisan effort for more civility.
Ironically, until what happened in Arizona, I had planned to chastise Lamborn in this column. Last week, after Defense Secretary Robert Gates (originally appointed by President George W. Bush) revealed his proposals for $78 billion in cuts of "wasteful" military spending, Lamborn led the outrage, telling the Gazette, "This would decimate national security." He could have just disagreed respectfully, but he took that reaction to the extreme. As if he knows far more about defense costs than Gates.
That's a typical example of why politicians should stop leading with their mouths. Lamborn's words and emotions Sunday were laudable. But now it's up to him, and everyone in Congress, to learn from this and do more to emulate their fellow lawmaker as she battles to recover.
And hopefully, someday, Gabrielle Giffords can return to the Capitol and find a much better place.
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